*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
…Two positions exist, the artistic and the commercial. Between these two an abiding tension persists. The eighteenth-century American painter Gilbert Stuart complained, “What a business is that of portrait painter. He is brought a potato and is expected to paint a peach.” The artist learns that the public wants peaches, not potatoes. You can paint potatoes if you like, write potatoes, dance potatoes, and compose potatoes, you can with great and valiant effort communicate with some other potato-eaters and peach-eaters. In so doing you contribute to the world’s reservoir of truth and beauty. But if you won’t give the public peaches, you won’t be paid much.
Repeatedly artists take the heroic potato position. They want their work to be good, honest, powerful – and only then successful. They want their work to be alive, not contrived and formulaic. As the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch put it: “No longer shall I paint interiors, and people reading, and women knitting. I shall paint living people, who breathe and feel and suffer and love.”
The artist is interested in the present and has little desire to repeat old, albeit successful formulas. As the painter Jenny Holzer put it, “I could do a pretty good third generation-stripe painting, but so what?
The unexpected result of the artist’s determination to do his [sic] own best art is that he is put in an adversarial relationship with the public. In that adversarial position he comes to feel rather irrational for what rational person would do work that’s not wanted?
…Serious work not only doesn’t sell well, it’s also judged by different standards. If the artist writes an imperfect but commercial novel it is likely to be published and sold. If his screenplay is imperfect but commercial enough it may be produced. If it is imperfect and also uncommercial it will not be produced. If his painting is imperfect but friendly and familiar it may sell well. If it is imperfect and also new and difficult, it may not sell for decades, if ever.
Ironically enough, the artist attempting serious work must also attain the very highest level of distinction possible. He must produce Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov but not also The Insulted and Injured or A Raw Youth, two of Dostoevsky’s nearly unknown novels. He is given precious little space in this regard.
I daresay, this last is why I devote my life to creating the most unique, technically advanced pastel paintings anyone will see!
Eric Maisel, A Life in the Arts: Practical Guidance and Inspiration for Creative and Performing Artists
Comments are welcome!
A: I am often asked to teach, but I never have had the desire to do so. Because my work is extremely labor intensive, I am reluctant to give up precious studio time, either for teaching or for any activities that could be deemed a distraction. Consistent in my creative practice, I typically work in my studio five days a week, seven or more hours a day and am able to complete four or five pastel-on-sandpaper paintings in a year.
Teaching would divert time, attention, and energy away from my practice. Certainly it can be rewarding in many ways but since my process is slow and meticulous, I prefer to focus on making new work.
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I think there are two very interesting stages in creative work. One is confusion and one is boredom. They generally both mean that there’s a big fish swimming under the water. As Rilke said, “Live the questions.” And not judge that there’s something wrong about confusion, because the people who are working, say, on the cure for leprosy – they work for years and years in a state of confusion, and very often they don’t find the cure. They find something completely different. But they keep living the question. Confusion is absolutely essential to the creative process. If there was no confusion, why do it? I always feel that all of us have questions we’re asking all our lives, for our work, and if we ever found the answer, we’d stop working. We wouldn’t need to work anymore.
Boredom – if you’ve ever been in therapy, you’d know that when you start getting bored, that’s really important. The therapist sits up; there’s something going on, because the wall that you come against – that’s where the real gold is. It’s really precious.
Andre Gregory (from My Dinner with Andre) in Anne Bogart, Conversations with Anne: Twenty-four Interviews
Comments are welcome!